Australia Unites to thank the fireys

Australia Unites: Recognising Our Heroes.
Australia Unites: Recognising Our Heroes. Matt Deans

THE Coffs Coast Advocate has today dedicated its Australia Day edition to the fireys.  

As our front page suggests the Orange Army -  the many thousands of men and women, who run towards the flames when most of us evacuate, in our book, should all share in Australian of the Year honours.

As countless hectares of bush burned around the nation - since the Coffs Coast's own bushfire disaster in November - many of our RFS volunteers, forestry crews and National Parks and Wildlife firefighters have travelled far and wide to protect communities hundreds of kilometres away from home. 

Catching up with a host of rural fireys this week it was staggering to hear their stories of how many firefronts they had seen in NSW and the ACT in 2019/20.

From Crescent Head, to Nymboida, Nana Glen, the Nambucca Valley, to Kempsey, the Blue Mountains, Quenbeyan and the Snowy Mountains.  

The seven fireys we today profile in The Advocate are just a representation of the hundreds of RFS volunteers in the region who have spent their summer not on holidays or at work, before protecting the country as volunteers. 

On behalf of our readers and advertisers we say thank you to the hardworking brigades of the Mid North Coast.

Australia Unites: Recognising Our Heroes.
Australia Unites: Recognising Our Heroes. Matt Deans

AUSTRALIAN UNITES

By Danielle Le Messurier

MORE than half a billion dollars appears to have been raised in response to Australia's bushfire crisis, but the tsunami of donations is causing a headache for some organisations who have no idea how to spend the cash.

In what could be the biggest ever fundraising response to an Australian natural disaster, a list of announced donations from charities, celebrities and organisations compiled by News Corp Australia shows the total amount raised is sitting around $535 million.

Social media giant Facebook has confirmed more than $50 million USD ($72.6 million AUD) has been raised through its platform, with fundraising efforts led by comedian Celeste Barber who is believed to have raised over half of that total.

Meanwhile, crowd-funding platform GoFundMe has raised over $35 million with some 480,000 donations made from 170 countries - including the continent of Antarctica.

Australia Unites: Recognising Our Heroes.
Australia Unites: Recognising Our Heroes. Matt Deans

Among the leading GoFundMe causes are the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital - which will receive over $7.5 million in donations - and the Ellen DeGeneres fundraiser that has raised $1.6 million USD ($2.3 million AUD) for the Australian Red Cross and the WIRES wildlife rescue organisation.

About $173 million has been donated to major charities, while celebrities and companies have raised approximately $222 million and fire services will receive at least $33 million.

It is possible there may be some overlap with donations. The final figure will not be known for some time.

But with donations streaming at a rate of knots, some organisations are saying they need more time to work out how to spend the money responsibly.

Senior NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Ben Shepherd said that outside of the Celeste Barber Facebook fundraiser - which has clocked up over $51 million AUD in donations for the RFS trust - he understood about $30 million has been donated directly to the service.

 Mr Shepherd said the RFS had not yet decided how the money will be spent but would be led by feedback from volunteers - many of whom are still deployed on foregrounds.

But he suggested it could be put towards on training aids and community education programs rather than hoses and nozzles that are already provided to the service.

"There is no doubt this has been the largest amount of donations the service has ever seen," Mr Shepherd said.

"The generosity shown by the community has been overwhelming and that's not just in money but things like food and goods that has come directly to us but also to brigades."

While the NSW RFS stands to receive an astonishing $80 million, Mr Shepherd said the money could be redistributed pending the outcome of legal discussions between the agency and Ms Barber.

The comedian wants the donations to go towards volunteer firefighters and the families of those who have died, as well as bushfire victims and injured wildlife.

But she has directed the donations to the Trustee for NSW RFS & Brigades Donations Fund, which only allows money to be spent on firefighting equipment and training.

A spokeswoman for Victoria's Country Fire Authority said it had received over $11.5 million to its Public Fund and Brigade Donations Trust.

"We are working hard to identify and prioritise projects which support brigades and volunteers in their firefighting, community safety education and community connectedness activities," she said.

"We will be confirming specifics in the coming weeks and months."

Rob Snowdon, the chair of South Australia's Country Fire Service (CFS) Foundation, said the it had raised "well in excess of $1 million" but had already distributed over $700,000.

"Our purpose is to support volunteer CFS firefighters and if they're impacted while they're volunteering through injury, death, loss of property or mental health issues," he said.

"We've supported more than 30 families through places like Cuddly Creek and Kangaroo Island … we've received a lot of donations and we're distributing them on a daily basis."

A Queensland Fire and Emergency Services spokeswoman (QFES) said this week said the agency had received about $2.24 million.

"All donations will support Rural Fire Brigades in undertaking the essential work they do to support their communities," she said.

"This includes the purchase of water tanks, construction of bores to access water, and phone extenders to extend communication coverage."

"Funds will also be used to purchase IT equipment, solar packages, lockers and security systems for stations, and universal sat sleeve wireless hubs to provide communication in remote areas."

HOW YOU CAN HELP: NSW CHARITIES AND EVENTS

The following is a poem written by Todd Hunter in honour of the fireys. 

A poem by Todd Hunter
A poem by Todd Hunter

WHY THE PORCH LIGHT STAYS ON

"Hold your horses-sit down, Jack" said Granny to the boy

As he fumbled with the buttons on his shirt

"No good throwing a wobbo with your knickers in a twist"

Boy of ten, losing patience, bit berserk.

 

"Why we dressed in our best in the middle of the night?"

Boy continued "Is this to do with Pop?"   

Granny smiled and hugged the boy- touch of sadness on her face

Long sigh, nod of head, eyes did drop.

 

Your Pop was a great man-an RFS member

Stands for Rural Fire Service around here

Affectionately known as firies by the public

Battled nature and arsonists- without fear.

 

I remember the big one back in 2019/20

Australia was in all sorts of trouble

Year long drought, high temps, too much fuel on the ground

All Firies were called up on the double.

 

Bush fires, out of control, destroying all in its path

OZ was under attack from within

The call from the Commissioner went out to its members 

Suit up, get to your depot, we're going in.

 

Closer to home- strong wind changed direction

Monster fire behind our village in the arvo

The ear piercing sound of the RFS siren

Split the air, locals froze, time to go. 

 

Pop gathered his things and stood where you sit

Calmly smiled, a kiss on my cheek

"I'll be fine, back for tea and a cold one from the fridge"

Cheeky bugger, phone and car keys he did seek.

 

Pop tickled our anklebiter that was snug on my hip

Don't pull the wool over my eyes with your con 

You'll be more than a few hours up in the bush

But no matter, I'll be waiting, porch light on.

 

In every home of every firie porch lights were turned on

By their loved ones who would wait up forever 

Each light would stay on until their firie safely home

Front gate opened, click on door, back together. 

 

"Check your clothing" Pop demanded from each firie at the depot

"Check the trucks and their equipment-high and low

Remember your training-no unnecessary risks

God be with us, all aboard, let's go".

 

The townfolk were retreating- RFS was attacking

Sirens blaring, big red trucks each with flashing light

Charging into the forest like a wounded bull

Hell awaits, no matter, we fight.

The platoon of fire trucks ploughed deep into the forest

Twas silent amongst the crew inside      

Thinking of families and their homes back in the valley

Deep breaths, refocus, scan wide.

 

The radio crackled "say again, over"

Urgent assistance is needed on the ridge

Fire has jumped the old containment line

Strong winds, huge flames, towards the village.

 

The firies arrived at the gates of hell

Thick smoke, howling winds, scalding heat

Animals fleeing for their lives but to where

Throwing fireballs in the air- can this be beat?

 

"Remember your training" Pop barked to his fire crew

"It's a marathon not a sprint-keep your wits

Check the fuel load on the ground"- trucks swerved to the right

Under attack, flying embers, multiple hits.

 

Keep pushing through-zero visibility, fire trucks did but halt 

Falling trees, blocked roads, the fire roars

"Quickly drop the fire curtains over all side windows

Time to go, all out, open doors."

 

11 hours straight Pop and his brave crew

Battled Mother Nature at her worst

They were stuffed but did not yield brave heroes in yellow

Hard to breath-felt their lungs were to burst.

 

The firies worked overtime as the dozer moved in

New fire line, earth's fuel gone in its pillage

A line had been drawn by the brave RFS

Contain the fire, stand our ground, save our village.

 

The battle hardened warriors swung axes, used rakes,

Deployed ladders, huge hoses blasted water

Defining moment in the battle mother nature v human

Fire's turning, pushed back from man- made border.

 

Several hours passed by, reinforcements arrived

Pop and team, job done, back down the fire trail

Each RFS uniform-soaked with blood, sweat and dirt

Mother Nature, this time, did but fail.

 

"Look out John- gum's falling" came a call inside the truck

Too late- tree crashed down on Big Red

Two men weren't going home to their loved ones that night

Your Pop and Arnie Brewis were dead.

 

The remaining big red trucks limped slowly from the forest

Battle won, at what price, what to do

As each firie went home to loved ones that waited up

All porch lights, switched off, bar two.

 

Time has passed, years gone by, loved ones never forgotten

Each year, midnight memorial, heads bow down

The townfolk pay homage to the fallen and survivors 

Of RFS, heroes all, that saved our town.

 

The tale is over but it's far from the end

Boy of ten stands and sprints across the mat

Grandson of Captain John re-enters the room

Grinning proudly, on his head, the firie's hat.

 

……………. six years later, Jack joined the RFS.



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